One of my favorite sitcoms of all time is Seinfeld. One of my all-time favorite episodes of that quirky show is called “The Opposite.” In it, George decides that every decision he has ever made in his life has been wrong, and that his life is the exact opposite of what it should be.
George tells this to Jerry, who then suggests to George that “if every instinct you have is wrong, then the opposite would have to be right.”
At that point, George resolves to start doing the complete opposite of what he would do normally in every situation. His first “experiment” with this new mindset is with a beautiful woman he sees sitting at the diner bar. He introduces himself to her by saying, “Hi, I’m George. I’m unemployed and I live with my parents.”
Now if I am recalling correctly what pick up lines work and what pick up lines don’t, this one would be in the latter category, a certain deal-breaker right out of the gate.
But to George’s surprise, the woman is impressed, slightly turned on, and agrees to go out on a date with him!
Aside from the brilliant humor and creative genius behind the creators and writers of Seinfeld, something else is going on here in this particular episode that points to a truth about human nature.
Dan Ariely explores this very idea in his insightful book Predictably Irrational. In it, he shares several case studies that illustrate the opposite concept that was dramatized on Seinfeld. For anyone who is fascinated by or curious about why people do the things we do — things that appear on the surface to be totally illogical and the opposite of what we should be doing — Ariely’s book is a must-read.
As a professional marketer and entrepreneur, I have learned some valuable things from Ariely’s research that I can apply to my business endeavors. Knowing that we humans are naturally impulsive, emotional, and driven from a place of wanting to feel important or included helps with all sorts of tasks including copywriting, video production, pay per click ad campaigns, and the like. While our culture is structured around reason and logic, Ariely shows time and time again that we human beings are anything but reasonable and logical.
Sure, there may be glimmers of logic and reason every now and then, but let’s not kid ourselves: cultural norms and systems are designed to control the things we are most naturally going to do. The very existence of creeds such as the Ten Commandments and The Golden Rule (and I use these examples respectfully) suggest that we humans need to be reigned in from our basest impulses.
Ariely shows this to be true again and again, with examples from his own life as a severe burn victim to situations in business to courtship to parenting to work.
I will be so bold as to suggest that the keys to success in life lie within the pages of Ariely’s book. The keys to success in marketing and entrepreneurship are certainly there. By studying and internalizing the patterns of human behavior — and there really aren’t too many patterns to memorize! — a person can do very well. (The moral issue arises when choices are made about how to use this information about human behavior: is it solely for personal gain (bad) or is there a broader, more benevolent impulse (good)? But this is a post in itself…)
One of my biggest take-aways from Predictably Irrational is this: In order to be remarkable, sometimes you have to do the opposite of what everyone around you is doing, even if it goes against the logical grain and puts you at social risk. In the end, each of us has to decide for ourselves what level of risk we are comfortable with relevant to the goals we have set for ourselves, and then act accordingly.
But last time I checked, anyone who is and was successful pushed past cultural norms and did not follow the path of least resistance. They instead did exactly the opposite.
Do you have any examples from your life when you did the opposite of what you believe you should have done? Please share those stories here to add to this conversation! And pass along the post if you feel it has value for others.
3 Cheers for the Opposite!